4 important heart-health measures

Nine out of 10 of us have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Thankfully, 80 percent of premature heart disease can be prevented through healthy habits. By simply being aware of what heart-health numbers to watch for, you can keep yourself and your heart happy and strong.


These are general targets:

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol: below 190 mg/dL (150 mg/dL is considered mildly high)
  • HDL (good) cholesterol: higher than 60 mg/dL

Not all cholesterol is bad. “HDL cholesterol protects against cardiovascular disease,” says Ali.  “LDL cholesterol clogs the arteries and raises the risk for heart attack.”

Get it fixed

Michelle Routhenstein, RD, is a preventive cardiology dietitian. She says eating a more plant-based diet is the top diet change to consider. “Swap out red meat, and consume more plant-based protein such as lentils and kidney beans,” says Routhenstein.

Blood sugar

Type 2 diabetes is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. “Consistently high blood sugar levels damage arteries,” warns Ali.

Get it checked

Those over the age of 40 should get their fasting blood sugar checked every three years. Your ideal targets:

  • Fasting: less than 100 mg/dL
  • One to two hours after a meal: less than 140 mg/dL

Get it fixed

“Once again, diet and exercise play the starring roles here,” says Ali. She recommends avoiding anything that’s refined (such as white bread) or made with added sugar. Add healthy fats, eat more fiber, and exercise.

Weight and waist size

Many experts consider your body mass index (BMI) to be an outdated and misleading health metric, but it can still provide clues to heart health.

Get it checked

A BMI of 25 or higher means you’re overweight or obese. And when it comes to waists, a 40 in (102 cm) or larger waist for men, or anything bigger than 35 in (90 cm) for women, indicates you’re at a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Blood pressure

When you have high blood pressure, your heart is under extra stress and has to work harder to pump your blood through your blood vessels.

Get it checked
Get your blood pressure checked at least once a year (many pharmacies have free blood pressure monitors you can use).

Low risk: 120/80 (systolic/diastolic)

Medium risk: 121-139/80-89

High risk: 140+/90

Get it fixed

To take control of your blood pressure, consider the following.

  • Eat less salt (experts recommend a daily maximum of 2,300 mg of added sodium (the equivalent of one teaspoon))
  • Ease off the booze (men should have no more than two drinks a day, while women shouldn’t have more than one drink daily)
  • Watch your weight (a tiny weight gain of only 5 lb (2.5 kg) has been shown to elevate blood pressure)

Thankfully, simple changes can lead to big benefits. Get started today!